Neil Smith tried to recreate the success of the Edmonton Oilers in New York. Today Glen Sather, the architect of that dynasty, replaced him as general manager of the Rangers.
Sather, who built the Oilers into five-time Stanley Cup champions between 1984-90, was introduced as the Rangers' president and GM at a morning news conference. He is the team's 10th general manager and 12th president.
The announcement was made hours before and a few miles from Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals between New Jersey and Dallas.
"I said we'd do a methodical search," Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts said. "We said we'd look for someone with a track record of success, someone that had a connection with the Rangers and that is what we have found."
Checketts said that Sather will have complete control over New York's hockey operations.
The longtime Edmonton coach and executive played parts of three seasons with the Rangers from 1970-74. He decided to make the move from a small market to the largest after three meetings with Checketts and Jim Dolan, Garden chairman.
"I wanted to make sure we were on the same page as far as our attitudes as to what we wanted to accomplish and what they wanted to accomplish," Sather said.
Smith was relieved of his duties, along with coach John Muckler, with only four games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs clearly out of reach for the third straight season.
Sather, as coach and GM, used Gretzky and Mark Messier as the cornerstones for the Oilers during their championship run. He resigned as Edmonton president and GM on May 19 and immediately attracted interest throughout the NHL.
"It was a tough decision to leave, but I think that in everyone's life it's time to make a change," said Sather, who would not disclose how many teams sought his services. "It was time for me to make a change and I feel very fortunate that coming to New York was an opportunity for me."
Sather will have his work cut out for him with the Rangers. Despite having one the league's highest payrolls this season, the team failed to live up to expectations.
"I haven't had the chance to get into why the personnel didn't perform up to expectations," Sather said. "I'm going to do that, just give me about 10 minutes."
This was the first time since 1963-66 the Rangers missed the playoffs in three consecutive years. Checketts has said he wants to restore pride to the Rangers.
"I wanted somebody who played here, who understood what it meant to pull on a Rangers sweater," Checketts said.
"He's probably one of the best for the job, no question about it," said New Jersey forward Jason Arnott, a first-round draft choice Sather made in 1993. "He's been known as one of the best, everyone wants hi. I don't think that comes as a shocker to anybody because he's done so well in Edmonton."
Sather coached the first four title teams in Edmonton, with Muckler coaching the fifth one.
This is not the first time the Rangers have relied on the Oilers' resources. Messier came to New York early in the 1991-92 season and helped end 54 years of frustration by captaining the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Messier won his fifth Stanley Cup in Edmonton after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. Smith brought Gretzky to New York for the 1996-97 season, briefly reuniting him with Messier, and the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
Messier then left, signing a free-agent contract with Vancouver, and the Rangers have not reached the postseason since.
"I have talked to Glen a couple of times and I've encouraged Glen to take on the challenge in New York," Wayne Gretzky said recently. "I really think it would be good for both. New York needs a guy like Glen Sather. They need a guy with a reputation of being a champion and a winner."
There has been speculation Sather might bring Kevin Lowe with him to New York. Lowe, the Oilers coach for one season, might be in line to take over in Edmonton for Sather, with assistant Craig MacTavish becoming the head coach.
Sather said he has coaching candidates but the coaching search has not yet begun.
Even after stepping down after 24 years with the Oilers, Sather remained a consultant. As late as Tuesday, on the verge of accepting the Rangers' offer, Sather signed Michael Henrich, the 13th pick in the 1998 entry draft.
Edmonton had to sign Henrich before a tonight's deadline to avoid losing his rights and have him go back into this year's draft.
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